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Reimer and a three-goalie system? Three goalies didn't work in 1973-'74

With James Reimer (let’s be honest, we didn’t expect this...) surprisingly inserting himself into the current Leaf goaltending picture, we have all no doubt been wondering, as Birky mentioned at Pension Plan Puppets on the weekend, if Brian Burke and Ron Wilson were possibly considering carrying three goalies for the foreseeable future.

Whether that actually happens once Giggy is healthy, I guess we’ll see.  (Wilson had said publicly a few days ago that Reimer is going back to the Marlies and I have no issue with that.  Time in the AHL is generally good for a goalie.  That said, he is the 'hot hand' right now, heading into the Phoenix encounter.)  I'm guessing most Leaf fans are hoping Wilson will run with Reimer for as long as it works, even if Giguere is "ready" to come back and play.

But this all got me thinking back to a time when the Maple Leafs actually went through an entire season—by design, if you can imagine—with three goaltenders.

Some of you will recall that I’ve written in earlier posts that I really liked the 1970-’71 Maple Leaf team.  I also liked what they were doing in 1971-‘72 under General Manager Jim Gregory, but they unfortunately ran into the eventual Cup champion Bruins in the first round of the playoffs in the spring of '72.

It all fell apart, though, in that summer of ‘72, when the exodus of talented, young Leaf players to the WHA began in earnest.  The most painful move was Bernie Parent heading to the erstwhile Miami Screaming Eagles.  What had been a promising goaltending future for the Leafs when Gregory acquired (future Hall-of-Famer) Parent in a great trade in January of 1971 went south very quickly.

Having the 40-something wonder Jacques Plante—which had been just fine the two seasons before with Parent around—wasn’t as comforting with Ron Low and Gord McRae as occasional back-ups.  Low and McRae were perfectly capable goalies, but it was a drop-off from Parent, who was capable of being a ful-time number-one guy on his own.  When the Leafs predictably struggled that season, Plante was traded by the end of that season, so in that summer of ‘73, the Leafs needed goaltenders- badly.

The obvious solution would have been bringing Bernie Parent back into the blue and white fold.  The good news at the time was that  Bernie wanted back into the NHL, after his failed sojurn in the fledgling WHA.

The bad news was that there was no way that he was he returning to the Leafs.  He didn't want to come back, for personal reasons I can't recall.  I think mostly it was because he wanted to go back to the Flyers.

So the Leafs got what they could in a trade that summer, sending Parent back to Philly and acquiring the talented but offbeat Doug Favell (pictured at right) from the Flyers and a first round draft choice, which turned out to be Bob Neely.  (As a side note, the Leafs gave up a second-round choice, which turned out to be Larry Goodenough, who had a pretty good NHL career.)

The Leafs must have sensed that Favell, though brilliant at times, was not the guy to rely on.  So, they brought in two other goalies: Eddie Johnston, who came from Boston along with a first-round draft choice (Ian Turnbull) in the Plante trade; and, Dunc Wilson, acquired in a trade from the Vancouver Canucks.

I’ll always remember King Clancy, then the Leaf assistant GM and all-around team spokesperson and organizational good-guy, being interviewed on Hockey Night in Canada during a game late that 1972-'73 season.  He was questioned in-between-periods about the Leafs’ lack of goaltending going forward, what with the then current season already obviously down the tubes and Plante having been traded.

King was at his barnstorming, snake-oil salesman best.  He barked at his inquisitors, “How do you know we don’t have a goalie right now for next season?”

When pressed, he wouldn’t give details, but it was clear he knew something was happening with the Bruins because of the Plante trade, probably (Eddie Johnston) but couldn’t say so because the Bruins were still playing for something that spring.  (It was likely a case of informal "future considerations", with the Leafs having a choice of one of a number of Bruin players at the end of the season.)

In any event, Johnston had been a steady if generally unspectacular goalie for the Bruins for many years, helping them win those two Cups in 1970 and 1972, though Gerry Cheevers was usually the go-to guy in goal.  Of historical significance, Johnston was (and still is, to my knowledge) the last Bruin goalie to play 70 games in a season, in 1963-’64, I think it was.  (I’m trying to think of other guys who have done it since, like Tony Esposito or Eddie Giacomin, but I don’t know if anyone since Johnston has played every game of their team’s regular season.)

But back to the Leafs that 1973-’74 season.  The problem was that they had three goalies, all ready and wanting to play.  Johnston was 38 years old at the time, Favell was still only 28 and Wilson 26, though unproven.

I knew Johnston was OK as a stop-gap goalie.  Favell, as I said earlier, could be brilliant (he could also be awful).  Wilson I had no major impression of, but I was lulled into thinking, hey, maybe this will be OK.  And, to a certain extent, it was.

Coach Red Kelly’s approach, at times was (believe it or not) to rotate the three guys, each guy playing one game, then the next guy, then the next guy.  In the end,  Favell was the nominal “number one”, playing 32 games, while    Johnston and Wilson each played 26 games.

When all was said and done, goaltending wasn’t the worst of the team’s problems.  The Leafs weren't a great team, but they did improve somewhat that season largely because they had five promising rookies (Salming, Hammarstrom, McDonald, Neely and Turnbull) in the line-up.  Both Favell and Wilson had goals against averages below 3, while Johnston was just above that.  I remember Wilson had a nice run at one point in the middle of the season.   He was an old-fashioned stand-up goalie, as was Johnston.  Favell was, well, kind of like Mike Palmateer who came after him, and a bit like Hasek- unorthodox to be sure, and sometimes spectacular.

But the “3-man” goalie system finished with a whimper that spring, when the Leafs went out quickly in the playoffs against the Bruins.  I remember, though, that Favell was amazing in one of the playoff games in Boston against the Bruins, and the Leafs only lost like 1-0.  But that was about all they had for the Bruins.  I don't think Johnston or Wilson played in the playoffs, but I really can't remember for sure.

I had nothing against the three guys who tended goal for the Buds that season.  They were all good goalies in their own right.  But I would have much preferred the one-goalie system:  (the future Hall-of-Famer, because of his play with the Flyers) Bernie Parent, who I wish the Leafs had signed in 1972.

As for the Leafs now, well, no team really wants three goalies on the big roster for any length of time.  But I'm guessing Reimer will stick around a while yet.  Giguere may indeed have to bide his time longer than originally planned.

9 comments:

  1. '73 is a little bit before my time. But weren't the Leafs in a similar situation in '92/93, when Potvin showed up and disrupted the veteran tandem of Fuhr and Wamsley?

    I seem to remember that Wamsley was either sent down to the minors or stuck in the press box for an extended period? It went on for long enough that it was starting to get uncomfortable.

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  2. DGB...The Potvin/Fuhr/Wamsley reference rings true. It strikes me, looking back (I could be wrong) that Fuhr and Wamsley were expected to be the tandem at the beginning of that season. What we all remember is that Potvin emerged as "the guy", enabling Cliff to deal Fuhr for Andrechuk and Puppa- another goalie. But I can't recall how much Puppa played down the stretch. Thanks for the note.

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  3. I wouldn't call it a failure. Under 3.00 GAA back then was pretty good. The solution to it was a failure. Trading Johnson who was serving a mentor role was a mistake and without him Favell and Wilson's GAA balooned.

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  4. The goalie that should go down now and dominate is The Monster. I think it is imperative for this team to finish with at least 80-85 points, and I think the team looks way more comfortable playing in front of Reimer. Just my 2 cents

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  5. Long suffering Leaf fanJanuary 13, 2011 at 6:27 PM

    I still can see Coach Kelly standing on the Leafs bench at Madison Gardens with a bull whip in hand with Wilson tending goal (I think the Leafs won the game 4-3). The trio of Johnstone, Favell, did not work out as well as Gregory had hope. Johnstone didn’t really want to play in Toronto, and Favell and Wilson were a little to free spirit for Red Kelly. Both would not follow the team dress and loath practices. Anyhow, the Leafs goaltender situation could have been a little rosier in the summer of 72 if Gregory had pulled the deal with Chicago for Gerry Desjardins. Chicago had three in goal themselves Esposito, Smith and very little use Gerry Desjardin, and with expansion that year was looking to unload Desjardin before losing him for nothing (I think the Islander selected him). As for Parent shunning the Leafs and forcing them to trade him to Philly, it had to do with an insult that Pal Hal had made towards him over a contract dispute. Sad to say, that ended Mr. Parent’s tenure in Toronto as he signed with the Miami Screaming Eagles before the 71-72 season was even completed! Another time that the Leafs used a three goalie system was the 85-86 season with Tim Bernhart playing 23 games, Don Edwards with 38, and Ken Wregget appearing in 30.
    To save time, I like to weigh in on the All Star selection. If I recalled, isn’t the selection suppose to be the best player on a team from the start of the season? If that is the case, then the selection committee did not do their homework. Luke Schenn in my eyes has been the best Leaf from the beginning of the season! Sure Grabovski has been on a roll from the last week of November up to now, but early in the season he looked like he was going to have another season like last year. Phil the highlight reel, was on fire at the beginning and then went south for a while, and it’s good to see that he is back. Overall, I guess the selection of Kessel has to do with show casein talent, and fair to him he is the Leafs most offensive talented player.

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  6. The Leafs were close in two games against Boston in '74. Kinda shades of '69, although it went like this:

    Bos 1 Tor 0 (Gilbert 35 shots/ 35 saves. Favell (33 shots/ 32 saves) [Greg Sheppard scored the only goal]

    Bos 6 Tor 3 (Gilbert 39 shots/ 36 saves. Favell 36 shots / 31 saves) [Sheppard ENG]

    Bos 6 Tor 3 (Gilbert 48 shots/ 45 saves. Johnson 30 shots/ 24 saves) [Boston exploded for 4 goals in the second period to erase a 1-0 lead by the Leafs. Sittler scored late in the period, 19:30, to get one back and Bob Neely may have had the game of his life as a Leaf]

    Bos 4 Tor 3 1OT (Gilbert 33 shots/30 saves. Favell 44 shots/40 saves) [Boston lead 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, but each time the Leafs came back with Hammarstrom (breaking all six Bruins eggs in his pocket, right Harold Ballard?) tying the game with just 1:17 to go. All for not as Ken Hodge sent the Leafs to the golf course just 1:27 into OT)

    Goalies Records 73/74

    Favell 32GP 14W 7L 9T 2.71GAA 870SA 79GA .909S%

    Johnson 26GP 12W 9L 4T 3.09GAA 735SA 78GA .894S%

    Wilson 24GP 9W 11L 3T 2.89GAA 661SA 68GA .897S%

    Doug Favell is the only player drafted in BOTH the 1967 and 1979 expansion drafts.

    No Leaf fan will ever forget Wed, Jan 24/68 when he came to Maple Leaf Gardens and made 46 saves(!) in a 2-1 Philly win over the Leafs. First he stopped Keon at point blank range in the game's opening moments, and later stopped Pappin on a breakaway in the third!

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  7. Thanks Long suffering...I remember Desjardins with the LA Kings. I seem to recall he was considered one of the bright young goaltending lights in the league for a time, but got buried behind Espo in Chicago, because Tony liked to play all the time.
    Thanks for reminding me about Ballard's role on losing my beloved Parent.
    With regard to the All-Star selection, you make a fair point about Schenn. Long-term, he may be the true All-Star. We'll see how he develops.

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  8. Scott, thanks for your comments.

    Your Hammarstrom/Ballard "eggs" reference is something all Leaf fans of that era well recall!

    I remember that Favell was fantastic, at his sprawling best, in that first playoff game against the Bruins at the old Boston Garden in the spring of '74. But the Bruins were just so good in those days, it was tough for the Leafs to stay with them.

    I remember, as I'm sure you do, how the Flyers were considered to have gotten the best young goalies in hockey in the '67 expansion draft, when they grabbed both Parent and Favell. It eventually helped them win those two Cups, when Bernie returned.

    Thanks for posting.

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  9. Favell's problems with the Leafs began in 1974-75 when he tried to be like Bo and played pro lacrosse during hockey season. The Leafs were expected to be better defensively than they turned out to be. Favell's play suffered and he wound up backing Gord McRae after Dunc Wilson got sent packing. I agree with a previous poster's idea that the team should have kept Johnston. Wilson was a good goalie but liked to party a bit too much.

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